It was 6.00pm on May 6th 1954 and history was about to be made at the Iffley Road track at Oxford University. 23 year old Roger Bannister had finished his duties at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington as a junior doctor and took an afternoon train from nearby Paddingto Station to Oxford with his Austrian coach Franz Stampfl. After a ham sandwich at a friends house they went to the race meeting between Oxford University and the Amateur Athletic Association.
Roger's two pals Chris Brasher and Christopher Chattaway were to be his pace makers and there were also three athletes representing The University.
it was windy and with driving rain and not until the last minute did the three decide to attempt the first sub 4 minute mile. Two years earlier Bannister had been favourite to win gold in the 1,500 at the Helsinki Olympics, but three earlier qualifying races had upset his planning and he finished fourth. If he had won he would have retired to concentrate on a medical career. However, he then set his sights on the first four minute mile with Wes Santee of the United States and John Landy of Australia wanting the same prize.
I listened to the live BBC radio commentary by Harald Abrahams, a distinguished lawyer and athletics commentator. He won the 100 metres at the 1924 Paris Olympics and was featured in CHARIOTS OF FIRE, the Oscar winning movie. Brasher was to set the pace for the first two laps and then Chattaway for the third. As he overtook Chattaway with over 300 yards to go he was urged on by 3,000 spectators waiting for history to happen in front of them.
The race organizer and announcer was Norris McWhorter, twin of Ross McWhorter who later set up the Guinness Book of Records between them.. As he hit the tape and was engulfed in spectators he said that he felt like an "exploding lightbulb".
Everybody waited for McWhorter to speak. " First No 41, R G Bannister of the Amateur Ahletics Association and formerley of Exeter and Merton colleges in a time, subject to ratification, a new track record, British national record, All comers record, European, British Empire and World record. THREE......" the rest was lost in the noise. It was 3 59.4. The news shot around the world. 46 days later in Finland Landy beat the record by over a second and so to the MIRACLE MILE at the Empire Games in Vancouver B.C. On August 7th Bannister beat Landy to gold as he passed him on the last bend. 22 days later in Berne, Switzerland, Bannister won gold at the European Championships and then retired to a distiguished medical career.
Chris Chattaway won gold in the 3 miles in Vancouver and bronze in the 5,000 metres in Berne He then persued a distinguished political and media career. Chris Brasher stayed around until the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 when he won the 3,000 metres steeplechase only after being disqualified and reinstated 24 hours later. He pioneered the sport of Orieneering and later co-founded the London Marathon with John Disley. In 1967 a year before the Mexico City Olympics I jogged round the outside of Estadio Olimpico with Brasher. very difficult for me at that altitude.
I bumped into Norris McWhorter at a subway station during the 1976 Montreal Olympics, a year after his twin brother Ross had been assasinated by the Irish Republican Army.
Bannister married a Swede, Moyra Elver Jacobssen, an artist, and they had four children and now 14 grandchildren. Roger served his national service in Yemen and did reearch to reduce fatigue and death in hot climates. He became a distinguished neurologist and worked and taught at St.Marys for 25 years. I passed the hospital last week and on the wall in Praed Street is a Blue Plaque to Alexander Fleming who discoverd penicillin there in 1925..
There is now an historic blue plaque at Iffley Road commemorating the First 4 minute Mile at a track now renamed The Sir Roger Bannister Track. In 2015 he put his kangaroo skin track spikes up for auction at Christies and they fetched £266,500 and he donated the proceeds to charity. He also became chairman of the Sports Council, was knighted in 1975 and pioneered the first tests for anabolic steroids. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2011 and passed away yesterday in Oxford age 88.
The present mile record is now help by Hitcham el-Guerrouj of Morocco on July 7th, 1999. Since 1976 the one mile is the only non metric distance recognized for world record purposes by the IAAF..